UP AGAINST IT
The iPhone did it’s usual ping, letting me know I had an email, not too long ago before I started doing the bike journo thing, I usually ignored emails, as they were 99% spam, but not nowadays. This one was off our main man at Enduro Mag HQ, asking if Doc and I wanted to go to and see the last round of the EWS in Finale Ligure, hmm well, be rude not too! I still don’t class myself as a top bike journalist, more a Tree Surgeon, who’s lucky enough to be able to write a bit and get some great benefits from it, so we both jumped at the chance to break our EWS weekend virginity!
From the start things didn’t exactly run to plan, we never realised the mag was booking us a room, that was until we had just booked our non-refundable one, fortunately the hotel understood the mistake and made an exception giving a full refund! Next we booked with the infamous Ryan Air, we were leaving from Stanstead (a 4 hour drive from home) at 9am, so had to be there for 7am. At 5 pm the eve before the flight, we got an email from Ryan Air; FLIGHTS CANCELLED, great! we manage to re-book for a 7am flight, so no sleep, as we traveled through the night to the airport and over to Italy in the morning. We were both excited, Doc had never seen a World Cup type event and the last one I went to see was Les Gets DH in the late 90’s when I wrote for Dirt!
Doc insisted on the full Italian experience with the hire of a Fiat 500, and off we went cross country to the EWS. As we got out of the city and neared the town of Finale Ligure the landscape changed, the views and roads became more mountainous, with the twisty roads being shod with many a concrete tunnel, reminding me of old 70’s James Bond and Michael Caine films. We arrived at the town, checked into our apartment and immediately took the 10 minute walk into the centre. This was the Friday and riders were practicing the course, so the mix of olde-towne happenings and ultra modern Enduro bikes with full faced riders whizzing around was quite surreal. We watched all the happenings over a few beers and our first sample of the awesome Italian cuisine, whilst we were there Peaty and Brycland both came bombing past (Peaty stopping for a chat) both on skate boards in full SPS kit, big kids! At this point we were just outside the main centre, so we finished our stroll into the main heart of the EWS to see what it was all about.
Finale Ligure is simply amazing, riders I knew were stopping for a chat and telling me about how awesome the tracks are, the beach is beautiful, as are the Italian girls! The medieval town is scattered with cafes, restaurants and the people are friendly, seeming to totally lap up all the bike happenings going on in their town. But the thing that impressed me the most was the actual race pits, they were huge, stretching down the beach promenade for a good 1/2 mile, it seemed every bike manufacturer and his dog had a team. I was blown away with how pro the whole thing looked, especially the huge SRAM and Scott set-up, bang in the centre of the square, where all the riders start their stages from. There was a real buzz in the air with one of the race organisers, Enrico, flat out on the microphone all day keeping the crowds entertained.
We headed into the press room, this was the first floor of a nice hotel right in the centre, overlooking the square. It was full of journos and photographers, all seeming flat-out on a mission,emailing, uploading pics and generally looking a lot more professional than I felt! The press office was mint, free coffee and snacks all the time and they arranged lifts for you to go to all the stages to watch the riding. This thing is just so organised and massive it’s unreal, a million miles away from anything held in the UK. We met up with the chaps from Enduro Mag, we were out in full force adorning the mag t-shirts, a total of 6 of us in all, none of the other publications having any more than 3 representatives, it felt good. Evening was soon upon us, as was the pull of the local liquor, I don’t drink much back home, but I was soon hammered in the square, catching up with my old mate, Dirt’s Steve Jones, a bad influence!
RACE DAY 1
After a late night, still not catching up on lack of sleep and getting up early with a hangover, to say I felt like shite is an understatement! We shot off at 8.30 in one of the lifts up to watch the end of stage 1. It was great to watch the world’s fastest racers nail past what looked like amazing dusty rocky trails, but it also totally did my head in. I really am not a watcher, I love to race, and to watch other people race, when I could have organised things a bit better and race myself was a real gutter for me. Doc was lucky enough to be able to shoot off and spend the day photographing riders flat out with Sven Martin, one of the worlds best MTB photographers. I had to make myself useful, so I came up with a plan, go back to the pits and spend the day with the GT mechanic Matteo and do an article on the experience, and what a great time it was too.
This done, I said laters to Matteo and headed back to the press room, Doc was soon limping in, he told of how Sven is absolutely flat out, shooting the top 10 then running to different sections at 100mph, never seeming to let up once, Doc was in awe of the chap, learning a lot, but he also knew he could hold his own, when it came to the finished pics. Next up was a quick round-up of the days events, the GT day and the Day 1’s racing done and put online. It’s amazing how long all this stuff takes, we didn’t get out of the press room till late, then it was another meal courtesy of our mag, with a lift back to the apartment from them at 11. On arrival Doc looks at me and asks “back into town for a couple of sherbets?” how could I resist! We were soon back and soon hammered on continental G&T. This was the second night we saw Alex Stock out like a rock n’ roller on the beer, pissed prior to the next day’s racing, fair play, I don’t know how he does it. 1 am and we headed back, via some fast food of course!
RACE DAY 2
Doc was up and gone when I arose, he had headed up for more punishment from Sven and his cronies, loving it. I pottered into town, via a nice beach-side cafe, this place ruled.
I felt myself at a bit of a loose end, not wanting to watch the racing as I so wanted to ride, but afterwards, being told by Jonesy just how ridiculously fast Nico Lau hit one of the rock sections and wishing I had seen it. I milled around, took some pics and interviewed some of the Brits. It was soon the end of racing, with only 2 stages being ridden on day 2 and the atmosphere was electric. The forecast rain had held off through all the racing to come down with a vengeance during prize giving, bringing with it thunder and lightning, knocking out the press room’s internet for the next 4 hours. We had to hit another hotel for WiFi and spent ages sorting day 2’s report and pics out. We didn’t really get out into the square, after another beautiful meal and mag meeting till 11.30. I was expecting a massive ‘end of season’ party, but it was just several very pissed people, Al Stock being the king of the boozers in a right state, brilliant. Also out was Jared Graves, propping up the bar, having been on the beer for a good 8 hours, for someone who hasn’t drunk all season that was quite a feat!
It was all over as we headed to town for the last time on the sunny Monday morning, things were being taken down and packed away, turning Finale back into the quiet little tourist town it is known for. Doc and I sat back in the beach restaurant for breakfast and reminisced on what we had learnt before hitting the road for the long journey back to the rainy miserable UK. Firstly I will definitely come back to Finale for a family holiday with mates and bikes as well and secondly the next EWS I attend (probably Scotland) I shall be racing not watching!
Thanks to the EWS for an amazing event and hospitality, all at Enduro Mag and Yoyo Marienfeld from Finale Ligure Bike Park for all their hospitality, plus a special thanks to Sven and the boys for taking Doc and absolutely ruining his legs, running up and down the tracks, seeing him trying to walk on the Monday was quite hilarious!
Words Jim Buchanan, pics Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan